It wasn't supposed to be this way -- not this season. With USC's numbers, and talent, the Trojans were going to be the high-energy, uptempo team all the time -- on both sides of the ball.
Steve Sarkisian said this week that if he did anyting else, he wouldn't "be practicing what he preaches." And yet, there it was again. Just 60 plays on offense against Stanford in a game where USC needed far more than that against a Cardinal team that racked up 41 points against a thoroughly disorganized, demoralized Trojans defense.
With just 12 players on defense two years ago, USC held Stanford to 17 points. Last year, by design, a fortunate Trojans team ran just 59 plays and watched as Stanford shot itself in the foot nearly every time it got to the red zone.
Not this year. Stanford dictated almost every single way this game was played. Dictated the outcome, as well.
While Cody Kessler had to sit and watch despite his 25-of-32 passing for three touchdowns while avoiding Stanford's three-man rush for just one sack and throwing on the run and even running on the run, when this game was decided, it was all about Stanford senior Kevin Hogan and his all-purpose sidekick -- Christian McCaffrey.
Even when USC knew it had to be one of the two, or one of Stanford's speed-free receivers, USC had no answers. Just surprise at how easily a Cardinal team that could score just nine points on Northwestern was able to more than quadruple that against the Trojans.
For those of us who had wondered if David Shaw had peaked, the Stanford coach showed he hadn't. And bragged a little bit about his "big game" team of big game players and coaches. Clearly, USC showed in this game it was not up to the challenge.
There were times here when you couldn't help but look back at Game 3 exactly a year ago, at Boston College, to remember a USC team so badly prepared, so emotionally, schematically and physically unable to answer the bell.
But 60 plays? The fewest since Stanford a year ago. And absolutely no offensive rhythm as a result. "But you still have to make something happen when you get the chance," said Tre Madden, who didn't much -- get the chance, that is. Just nine carries for 64 yards -- a nice 7.1-yard average -- and all in the first half.
That's much higher than McCaffrey's 4.4 average but the Stanford star got 26 carries and his three catches on really well-designed plays, produced 37 yards, not the mere one that Madden's three catches did.
Like the rest of the USC offense, Madden was a spectator the second half as the Trojan defense couldn't get off the field, couldn't give Stanford any bad plays, couldn't force them into those third-and-longs it so wanted. Not that that would have mattered as USC, with its inability to contain, to stay in lanes, get off blocks or wrap up and tackle in the open field, allowed both Hogan and McCaffrey time and again to scramble for long yardage to keep drives alive.
Last year, it was obvious, the lack of a defense with any ability to control games impacted the USC offense which was slowed down, often after halftime, to try to help a limited-numbers USC defense stay off the field -- or on it to be more exact. Against Stanford, USC didn't have to make that choice that cost it the Boston College, Arizona State and Utah games.
Stanford made it for the Trojans. Just 60 plays for you, Stanford said. Just 8:40 time of possession the second half. Try to catch us if we don't let you have the ball.
USC couldn't. Just saying you're going to be a high-energy, numbers-unlimited, talent-unleashed team doesn't work when you can neither take it away from or stop that other team. USC clearly could not. So its offense didn't matter.
Kind of like Adoree' Jackson, on offense, who got not a single look -- not one carry, not one pass, not one yard. Like his one punt return. Zero yards. Only on his five kickoff returns -- a double-edged sword there -- did Adoree' get any yardage. And who really wants to get all those kickoff returns that come after giving up scores?
A special moment
If there was one positive out of the Stanford game, Jake Olson could take us there. It was the blind freshman long snapper's first outing as a Trojan.
Talking about the USC loss, Jake sounded much as he does when he talks about himself. "You can't let it stop you, can't let it beat you back. It was a tough loss. I think we'll be fine. I don't think it will define us."
As to his own experience, the week of practice and the game, Jake used the word "awesome" three times to describe every part of the experience. For himself -- and for others.
"I understand the impact I can have on other people and how they can draw inspiration from me," Jake said. Not that he wasn't drawing inspiration himself, talking of seeing in his mind's eye what he looked like in his cardinal and gold jersey for the first time in the Coliseum, on national TV, as a Trojan.
"Surreal," he said. "Awesome."
Late night in Tempe
Thanks to USC's Stanford thumping, the Trojans draw the late night straw Saturday in Tempe with the Arizona State game now kicking off at 7:30 p.m. PT/MT. It will be shown live nationally on ESPN. The good news is it won't be quite so hot.
BY THE NUMBERS
59-60USC's number of plays the last two years against Stanford. Not exactly high-octane offensive outings.
101-78.7Kessler has now thrown 101 paases without an interception, back to the Holiday Bowl, and has completed 70 of 89 passes for 922 yards and 10 TDs in that time for 78.7 percent of his passes. Too bad he could get a mere 32 throws against Stanford after opening by completing 17 of his first 19.
31Only one other time in the last 39 games has Stanford giving up as many as 30 points -- and despite USC scoring 31, the Cardinal won going away.
39:29 to 20:31Those are the mind-boggling time of possession numbers with Stanford nearly doubling USC's.
15With freshman corner Isaiah Langley giving up his redshirt Saturday, USC has played 15 true freshmen this season. The Trojans played 14 of them against Stanford.
3-5Since 2008, USC is a mere 3-5 in its Pac-12 openers.
8 for 87After throwing just nine penalty flags for 92 yards on USC in its first two games, the Pac-12 officials made up for it against Stanford with eight for 87. And that doesn't include the two-flag play that USC dodged since Stanford was also called for one on that play and it was negated. Three flags on one play. Only in the Pac-12.
434/427Last week, USC racked up 434 first-half yards against Idaho. This week, the Trojans didn't reach that number in the entire game with 427 against Stanford.
Injury report:Kevon Seymour still looked a bit stiff on that knee that kept him out of the game and Antwaun Woods had a shoulder issue he was being treated for. Not sure if serious. Should know more from Sark's Sunday conference call.
STEVE SARKISIAN On the Stanford game: "Football is a humbling sport . . . We have to get back up and go on the road to Arizona State and fix the things that need to be fixed and get a win in the South Division."
SARK AGAIN On the basic defensive problem: "We lost the edge on a team more than we should have against a team that runs to the edge. It was important to turn the ball back inside and we didn't do that."
STANFORD COACH DAVID SHAW On where the Cardinal had a big edge -- his defensive line against USC's O-line: "They'll sleep well tonight. That's a front line that might be the biggest in college football. They're big guys and still athletic. They can move. A lot of credit to our guys for finding ways to make tackles. They survived and we needed them to survive. My hat's off to them."
STANFORD QB KEVIN HOGAN On the secret to the win: "We made sure we stuck to the game plan and executed it and it's a nice feeling to go out in the second half and run the clock out, playing our style, running between the tackles and wearing them down."
USC D-LINEMAN Greg Townsend JR. On what went wrong: "I really don't know . . . We tried to execute the game plan . . . but everybody has to do it . . . why we didn't . . . I honestly don't know."
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